HMS Drake. Rathlin Island Shipwreck.

Wilson, Ian (2011)
Rathlin Island, Co Antrim: Rathlin Island Books.

ISBN: 978-0-9568942-0-5
112 pgs (16 pages of photographs)
Printed by Impact Design & Printing, Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

Table of Contents

HMS Drake was torpedoed on 2 October 1917, five miles north of Rathlin Island, off the north coast of Ireland. She later sank in Church Bay, the largest wreck close to the shore in Irish waters, and is passed daily by island residents and visitors alike. But that was not all that happened on that epic day, which brought some of the horrors of the Great War to the quiet shores of Rathlin Island. Recounting the life, times and death of the Drake, these stories are now being told in full for the first time…

HMS Drake front cover

"A light westerly breeze is lifting early morning mist over calm waters... Kapitänleutnant Rohrbeck observes with sudden excitement a cruiser through his periscope. She has four tall funnels and two masts... Manoeuvering U 79 to the correct angle for attack, he is only 600 metres from the British ship's starboard side when he gives the order to fire..."

“...the islanders watching all this in amazement from the cliffs and the settlement at Church Bay, could see the Drake finally reaching her intended sanctuary a few hundred yards offshore at just about the same time the Lugano was sinking from view beneath the waves four miles to the west. Near her, the mutilated silhouette of the Brisk was being approached by two of the many armed trawlers on hire to the Admiralty, Seaton and Vale of Lennox. There might have been another twenty ships in Rathlin Sound. Was there ever a scene like it round the Irish coast?”

"Captain Stephen Radcliffe was the last to leave his ship. He stepped aboard the Delphinium, ordering her CO to anchor nearby to await the tugs. His report concludes: '...nobody except the dead remained on board the Drake when I left her for the Delphinium: the mess decks, boiler rooms, engine rooms had all been searched and reported clear. Ship was abandoned at 2.05 p.m...'"

Author Ian Wilson


Ian Wilson has had a lifetime’s interest in Ulster’s maritime history. From Bangor, Co Down, his published work includes ‘Shipwrecks of the Ulster Coast’ and ‘Donegal Shipwrecks’, and he has lectured and broadcast regularly. He has been a teacher of English and History and a museum curator.

Cover Painting

The cover painting is an original artwork that was commissioned especially for this book, and was painted by renowned maritime artist Kenneth King, based in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal. The painting is oil on board, and depicts HMS Drake escorting Convoy HH 24 north of Rathlin. The composition specifically requested of Kenneth has the Drake to the right of frame, allowing for the painting to be used as a 'wrap-around' image for both the front and the back of the book. See Kenneth King’s other works at:

HMS Drake cover clip

HMS Drake tailpiece


The tailpiece at the end of each chapter is a sketch of the Drake commissioned for the book, and drawn by Barbara Henderson (Rathlin Island). The sketch is also a key part of the design of the website.

The Drake wreck

The wreck of the Drake has been marked for decades now by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The wreck is marked with a South Cardinal Buoy – one that instructs vessels to pass to the south of the marker, and is a familiar sight to anyone approaching Church Bay, Rathlin Island. The buoy is regularly maintained by the Irish Lights Vessel Granuaile, and is part and parcel of the Rathlin landscape, particularly at night when the buoy’s seven flashes mark the last resting place of HMS Drake. (Photograph: Jessica Bates)

© Rathlin Island Books 2012

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